How to wire 4-way switch?


I’m running in to some trouble getting my 4-way switch wired up. My setup looks like this:

1x GE 12727
2x GE 12728

Box 1 has a neutral and is currently working with the 12727. Box 2 & 3 do not have neutrals. I have tried to run the red lines in to the traveler input and the black lines in to the neutral, but it does not work. Any idea how get this running?

(David S) #2

Do you have 3 wires running between each switch?

Couple things need to happen-

  1. Load must be passed/wire nutted from the base switch all the way to the light. It will not touch the add on switches.

  2. Each add on switch needs the traveler and neutral sent to it, connecting back to the main switch.

In your diagram, with only 2 wires between each switch, it may not be possible to work how you want it to work. What does not make sense to me is how your light is getting neutral. Is it possible that the neutral in the box for switch 1 belongs to a different circuit?


The more I work on this, the more confused I get. Whoever wired up this house had no idea what they were doing. Anyway, here is exactly what I had prior to installing the switches:

Box 1:
3 pole switch with: Brown (Line), White (Load), Red (Trans)
Also has White (Neutral) and Green (Ground)

Box 2:
4 pole switch with: 2x Red (Trans), 2x White (Load)
Also has Green (Ground) and 2x Black, nut together. Tested and this does have continuity with the neutral from the light.

Box 3:
3 pole switch with: Green (Ground), White (Load), Red (Trans), Black (Must be the load out to the light?)

What is not working:
12727 in box 1
12728 in box 2 with the white wires connected, two black wires in neutral, two red in trans
12728 in box 3 with… no idea. Seems like it should be the white and black connected, but then I don’t have a neutral. Connecting red, black, and white bypasses the switch, so that I what I am doing right now.

Temporarily I have the 12727 on box 1, the 4 pole in box 2, and the third bypassed. The 12727 works fine as long as box 2 is on…

(Ray) #4

Is it possible you can take a picture of box 1? There should be 5 wires excluding the ground. There is one wire missing from this box otherwise it’s a pretty standard 4 ways with power going into the light fixture first then down to your box 1. You won’t be able to use the GE switches if that’s the case.

(Michael) #5

Your setup is very similar to mine. This post of mine may help you:


The colors don’t correspond with my setup, so I’m not sure what this is saying. I have my smart switch working in box one, but I can’t find a way of setting up the other two boxes with the add on switches.

(Brad) #7

Once you say that boxes 2 and 3 do not have neutrals, I’m not sure how you could wire this up. All the switches need a load-side neutral.

But let’s say you have neutrals, then, if you have the master switch working, you’re most of the way there. The GE Master and Add-Ons don’t wire up like the dumb switches. Instead, think of the functional master switch as a “body”, and you need travelers running from that body as “appendages” out to the add-on switches. That’s it, really. The switches communicate over that line. And as Schro says, the add-on switches need load-side neutrals and ground connections.

It seems to me that the advice gets confusing because there are many ways you could wire it. For instance, you could pull out switches 1 and 3, binding the (in-diagram) black lines in each of those two boxes. You could put the master in box 2, using the two black wires as line and load. You’d then have a one-switch circuit. Then, the red wires would serve as the travelers between the master and add-on switches. But in all cases, all switches need access to a neutral.

Since you already have a functional switch in box 1, and I’m assuming you’ve got the black wires bound together in 2 and 3 because you say it’s working. Then, you should be able to use the red lines as travelers, from 1 to 2 and from 2 to 3. You’ll need to find a neutral somewhere, though, to make those work.

Corrections welcome.


Yeah, I think you hit it on the head. I “might” have a neutral in box 2 and definitely not in box 3. Is there another brand of dumb/addon switch I might be able to use that doesn’t need a neutral?

(Ray) #9

Seriously, don’t waste your time and frustration by guessing. You need to know which wiring configuration your house is first. Without out this. You will not just get frustrate but also having a chance of damaging your smart switches. There are only standard 4 ways circuits for most US home.

  1. Power in at box 1, load at box 3
  2. Power in at light fixture
  3. Power and light at box 1. (don’t see this often due to the mess if wire in the gangbox.

In 4 ways for a smart circuit with line hot and neutral in one of the box. You will only need max of 3 wires between switches excluding ground and I haven’t seen any 4 ways with less than that amount of wires between switches. Also take picture of each box for reference. We could definitely be able to help you but you have to provide with the info above to be useful.

Edit: Getting the master switch to work at box 1 doesn’t mean much since it could get power across the light bulb.


Pictures would definitely just make it more confusing as whoever installed this in the first place did not stick to standard wire colors. The diagram in the original post is exactly the lines in each box (1 on the left, 2 middle, 3 right). The neutral is only in box one. I thought there was a neutral in box 2, but since it is on a black wire and using it as the neutral with the addon switch does not work, I’m starting to think is it something else. Either way, there is definitely no neutral in box 3, just load to the light, one travel, the line from box 2, and ground.

(Ray) #11

Sorry, I should make it clear about pictures. It’s not just useful but would also save you the headache later on if you need to swap them back to the old switches. It’s very difficult to remember the wires later on. So save the picture for future reference. Also, as an electrician. Sometime I could make a guess of the wiring configuration by looking at which wire is connected to which terminal on the switch. There is no such thing as standard wire colours in a 3 or 4 ways especially in older home.
Can you confirm there is no wires connecting together and hidden behind the switches?
Also, how do you check line, load and neutral? Only way is with a meter and all wires remove from the switches.


Yup, everything tested with multimeter and disconnected. Finally got the exact wire setup (and each have ground as well):

Box 1 (3-way switch):
Line, Load(to box 2), Traveler(to box 2), Neutral

Box 2 (4-way switch):
Traveler(from 1), Traveler(to 3), Load(from 1), Load(to 3), Load(to the lights), Load(from 3)
*Note that Load from 3 was connected to the Load to the lights

Box 3 (3-way switch):
Load(from 2), Traveler(from 2), Load(to 2)

So I think I am out of luck. With the way the smart switches work, I technically have two extra cables between 2 and 3 that I could use to get neutral to box 3. The problem is that if I put the smart switch in box 1, I can only send line and traveler, so no neutral. If I put the smart switch in box 2 I can run the neutral from box 1, but won’t have the line. The annoying thing is that there is a 3-prong plug a couple feet from box 2, so I know there is a neutral in that wall, but I don’t think there is a way of tapping in to that without tearing open the wall.

(Ray) #13

So the Romex from the circuit breaker with brown, White and ground. Also there is another romex going from box 1 to box 2 that has 3 conductors only? Red, black and ground. No white? I definitely not doubting you. Just trying to help. But the first switch should have 3 terminals and 3 wires hooking up to it. Where does the 4th wire hooking up to? Sure there is no white wire connecting together hiding behind the wire mess?
Note : load is for a wire from the light bulb. Any wire going between switches terminals are Traveler.


There are definitely only 3 wires going from box 1 to box 2. The 4 that go from box 2 to box 3 are the ground, traveler(red), traveler(white), traveler/load(black). The load is in box 2, so there are the two travelers going to the 3-pole switch in box 3 and the output of that loops back to box 2 and is connected directly to the load.

(Ray) #15

I see 4 wires but the 3 ways only has 3 terminals. There is a wire hookup to nothing?

(David S) #16

Thinking out loud here…

  1. How is neutral going to the light?

  2. If you put the 12727 in box 2, then you can tie line and neutral through box 1 to 2. Then use the traveler line to connect 1 and 2 to the slave switch in box 1. Pigtail a neutral there in 1 and you’re good. Then, send neutral and traveler from 2 to 3 for the slave there. No need to loop the load there and back.

Toughest thing with these switches is wiring topolgy differs so much…

(David S) #17

The middle switch in the setup is a 4 way, which has 4 terminals. In a traditional 4 way set up, you put 3 way switches on the ends and 4 way switches in the middle.

(Ray) #18

I understand that. I wired and repaired hundred of 3 and 4 ways before. That was my previous job. What’s not clear with his finding. There are only 2 wires plus a ground going from box 1( 3 ways switch) to box 2(4 ways switch). This will not be possible to have it operating in a normal 4 ways. Also 4 wires going into box 1 (3 ways switch) but the switch has only 3 terminals. Until these are clear. Otherwise it will be hard to do anything.

(David S) #19

Yeah. That’s my head scratcher. The neutral shows up in box 1 but doesn’t go anywhere. That doesn’t make sense to me, hence my question about how the neutral gets to the light… As I’d figure that the neutral that came into box 1 somehow goes up to the light…


No idea how the neutral is going to the light. It’s likely part of the bundle in box 1.

As far as the suggestion, unfortunately it won’t work as I only have 3 wires running between 1 and 2 and would need 4 (ground, line, travel. neutral).